Remains of withey beds in Millend

Another slice of history exposed by winter floods

Steve Mills’ recent article about the field systems in the Meadows which can best be seen during heavy winter rains, reminded me of another industrial/agricultural system in the field between Millend and Cress Green. Much beloved by dog walkers, as well, many people will identify this as the village sledging field.

In the photograph below, taken from the garden of Hazel Cottage, Millend, puddles can be seen, emphasising a long narrow dip, running parallel to the River Frome.

This is all that remains of a significant ditch, originally as deep as the river itself, which ran for the full length of that 10-acre field and beyond. It’s purpose, which only faded away after the Second World War, was to support two more rows of willow trees, like those that remain by the river now.

The 1839 Tithe map and others show the extent of the ditch or “leet” and the appropriate name for the field – Floodgate Furlong.

This 1872 map shows Floodgate Furlong as number 4, with the church in the top left corner, the curve of Millend Pitch lower left and Cress Green written as “Crease Green”, lower right.

Withey Beds, canal barges and the wool Industry

More commonly known as withey beds in the West Country, these willows were pollarded in rotation every couple of years to provide a regular supply of flexible branches for making baskets. Prior to cheap metal or plastics, this was the primary method of storing materials, both in the dozens of woollen mills and in canal barges. What couldn’t go in a sack went in a basket and the archives of the Stroudwater Canal Company contain references to baskets being a recognised unit of measurement for a cargo.

In Eastington, especially Millend, families would spend their winter evenings making baskets for sale to the mills – a genuine cottage industry.

Tom Low, Hazel Cottage, Millend